The number 25 bus journey will never be described in the guide books as, “a peerless travel experience”. It trundled into Brighton with every facet of its existence governed by dull predictability under the British Standard Overcast Sky. But, as I sat, my mind drifting, lamenting the strenuous efforts of English passengers at avoiding eye contact, the very mundanity of the scene transformed the bus’s route into one through times and places, to Africa. Instead of the embarrassed silence and electronic exclamations of mobile phones I hear the jovial babble of Togolese women atop their bulging bags of cassava destined for the weekly market; then the crescendo of the preacher’s hellfire and brimstone sermon, battling it out with the bitches and bling rap videos preferred by the driver, as we lurch around the endless road works of Southern Uganda. Conversation with strangers being effectively banned by English reserve and notions of politeness, I re-live the hour of intense discussion on life, love and religion with an affable Muslim as we breathe the billowing dust of no man’s land, bumping over what could barely be classed as a road somewhere in the back woods between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
The plodding view and its stately procession, governed by driving skills honed through years of health and safety training faded into the blur of Burundian hillsides as we hurtled down winding, pot holed tarmac in an effort to re-take pole position from the bus in front, which had the audacity to overtake us a while back. The hoard of excitable occupants shouted encouragement to our man behind the wheel, despite the imminent prospect of certain death awaiting us on the boulders beneath the unguarded, precipitous drop, should he have made the slightest of errors.
We slump to a halt at a bus stop and I am transported to a dusty village in Burkina Faso where dozens of women crowd around the windows of our crumpled, sagging bus, their arms aloft, enthusiastically offering food and refreshments: the inviting cool, deep red colour of homemade bissap drink in a motley collection of recycled plastic bottles; nameless animal parts charred onto skewers and an abundance of ripened fruits offering respite from the piercing heat. Each successive wait en route provided its own random selection of goods and the journey became one drawn out drive-thru store: shoes, pillows, a clutch of puppies, an Iron Maiden t shirt, seemingly anything can be bought at the roadside in Africa.
With rush hour long passed, few seats are taken and I tally up the passenger numbers to realise that I have shared taxis with more people in Africa than currently occupy this bus. A sign optimistically claiming it’s suitability for 64 seated and 8 standing. I relished the comfort for a moment as my mind took me to a dirt track in Northern Benin, where, compressed into a 7 seater I was fused together with 11 other adults, 3 grown children, 2 babies and for good measure a guy balancing on the summit of the luggage mountain strapped to the roof rack.
With a sigh my reverie dissipated as we reached the town centre, time to get off and join the modest, well behaved crowds, not the delightful chaos of the seething masses in Abidjan or Kampala. Another uneventful journey, with no one to share a conversation with and no tales to tell.